Chuck, Thanks for keeping us up-to-date, along with post earlier this week, on developments with hydrogen in automotive. No question that advanced research is an important aspect of this industry and its future. Hope that continues.
I second Al's comment. This is quite cool innovation to check out. It's amazing that hydrogen is powerful enough to fuel a race car. I'll keep an eye on your posts for future hydrogen developments. After so many years of hearing about the potential for hydrogen, it seems really cool to see it actually happening now.
Elizabeth, hydrogen was used to launch the space shuttle. So it has the potential for powerful racing. What would worry me on the race track is a potential for an accident. As you recall the space shuttle had a little fuel leak and that did not end very well.
Thanks Charles for keeping us update regarding the new technology . No doubt race track is the best place for the comparision between hydrogen sports car and hybrid cars but no conclusion can be drawn untill and unless the event takes place . However i have to admit that hydrogen cars are enviornmental friendly because they dont emit carbon dioxide .I am eagerly waiting for the conculsion after the race takes place .
Chuck, the problems with hydrogen in the past is the same as the problems with hydrogen now. The biggest problem is fueling. I was working on a project and the construction management company had something going with one of the oil majors. One of the projects was a hydrogen fueling station. It was complex and very expensive. It will always be more expensive than a gasoline station. This is just physics.
If you go to Epcot center and go through the GM ehibit you will see hydrogen car mock-ups. These used the hydrogen for fuel cells.
While this is an interesting development as far as the racing using hysdrogen goes, the problem still remains the same. How do you fuel these things. A dual fuel capability is very good, and could perhaps lead to something useful.
You're unquestionably right, Louis. Big automakers do these things as a means of dipping a toe in the water -- seeing what other problems might be lurking out there that they didn't expect. When I started writing about these topics in '88, everybody -- GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda -- was doing battery-electric cars. They tried, they went their period of disillusionment, they came back and tried again. I suspect the same will happen with hydrogen. It will come and go for another couple of decades, depending on how much automakers are able to sink into these projects, knowing they won't get a payback for a long, long time.
I'd be curious NaperLou what the true end cost of a hydrogen station comes to these days. The last time I heard a figure was about $15mill in the late 90's and that was for basically a two pump kiosk type setup. Until that comes down you will never see hydrogen in use much outside of large population centers. Hydrogen is a very goo fuel but far from perfect. Production, fuel cost and storage are the three bigg elephants in the room. One proponent of hydrogen was claiming the energy equivilent of a gallon of gasoline was rather higher. He was comparing $3.50 a gallon gas with hydrogen that was running about $25 per. The majority of it is derived from pertroleum currently so thts not very surprising.
"While this is an interesting development as far as the racing using hydrogen goes, the problem still remains the same. How do you fuel these things. A dual fuel capability is very good, and could perhaps lead to something useful."
Naperloue, I think the issue you had mentioned can be addressed in future. When technology develops further and goes for mass production, such cost factors can be come down. Now a day's most of the cars are fitted with hybrid fueling systems and this can provide an alternate fuel option to the users.
naperlou: If you remember just a few years back, SHELL OIL CO. sponsored print advertisements & other media ads showcasing their hydrogen dispensing kiosks in Finland. IF my memory serves me, they included a highly modified FORD vehicle in the ad also.
Hello napelou, What if you could generate enough H2 "on-board" to satisfy the needs of a blended mixture; i.e. fuel and H2--whether that fuel is biogas, diesel, low lead, etc etc? Seems to me that would be a significant breakthrough and would possibly eliminate the need for fueling stations. (Other than gasoline.)
I disagree - the Honda FCX Clarity is ready for production as soon as 2018 depending on the hydrogen infrastructure.
California already started putting in hydrogen fueling stations.
There are already around >50Honda FCX Claritys being leased..
The great thing about hydrogen is that it can be produced from almost anything - there are even home gas furnaces that can produce hydrogen - imagine having your own hydrogen fueling station at home - kind of ruin most business models.
Only reason you haven't heard much about hydrogen cars is the lack of publicity stemming from current bad governement investments.
Also having worked on pure electric vehichles - this type of technology is still a long way off from being practical.
Basically, TJ, this is an engineering exercise. In fact, the people we talked to at Aston Martin used those exact words. As many commenters here have pointed out, hydrogen power isn't practical and it isn't new. Personally, I think the automakers are treating this as it should be treated -- as long-term research. Luckily, no state is trying to force the technology with passage of laws mandating that the auto companies build these vehicles.
Elemental hydropgen does not exist in the atmospere, nor does it squirt out of a well in Texaa, or from some land we might conquer. The only commercial sources are "stripping" hydrocarbons such as methane, or by electrolyzing water. The former delivers hydrogen with considerably less heat of combustion than the hydrocarbon with which you started, and the carbon component of the feedstock is generally released as CO2. Electrolysis is also inefficient (50-60%), and that's AFTER you have run a heat engine on fossil fuel at <50% efficiency to generate the electricity, so your overall conversion from fuel to hydrogen energy is <20%. Electrolysis might make sense from a renewable source when its generating capacity exceeds demand and the extra would otherwise be wasted. So, let's take our slide rules out of our rectums before waving those cheerleading pompoms.
Second, running an Otto cycle engine on hydrogen is no big deal. The same diaphragm carburetors that we use for propane or natural gas will handle hydrogen.
Hydrogen powered cars are nothing new. I can remember news stories in the 1970's that showed reporters putting a cup under the tailpipe of a hydrogen powered car and drinking the condensed steam coming out (yuk).
To throw another wet blanket on hydrogen, it's difficult to transport. Liquifying it isn't practical and any pipelines used to convey it would need to be stainless to minimize the corrosive and embrittlement effects of hydrogen gas on metal.
At least with battery electrics and hybrids, and even propane and natural gas, the infrastructure largely exists. With hydrogen none exists. I wouldn't expect to see hydrogen vehicles on the showrooms anytime soon. Hydrogen gas as a stored fuel is a non starter.
Hydrogen is about as impractical a fuel as could possibly exist.
#1 - where do we get it from, and how much energy do we have to expend to get it in a usable form? Any source of hydrogen has a very high energy cost as compared to the final energy available from the final hydrogen fuel. So far, all the schemes I have heard of require 3 to 4 times the energy expenditure as compared to the amount of energy available from the final hydrogen.
#2 - Safety - Having worked with a welding process that used hydrogen - Hydrogen will burn with just about ANY combination with air. And you can't see the flame. Hydrogen is very hard to contain as the small molecule will leak out of a vessel and piping system that can safely hold any other gas.
#3 - Considerring the skills of the average driver... Are you going to trust the average driver to manipulate the special refueling gear required to refuel a hydrogen vehicle? And how much is having a skilled refueling tech going to add to the cost of the process?
#4 - What is the real pollution cost? Just becausae the car would emit just water does not take into consideration the pollution cost through the whole supply chain. What is the source? Petroleum? Might as well burn the petroleum in the car as it will still be less efficient to create the hydrogen and thgen burn it. Something has to supply the energy to produce the hydrogen, so how much junk is produced by that process? An electic car doen't pollute out its own tailpipe, it just has a tailpipe at the power plant...
Hydrogen sounds like the ideal fuel. It's light, it can be used with fuel cells, the only reaction product is water, heck, most of the universe is made of hydrogen! And it just sounds very sexy.
But there are several things that make hydrogen a pretty poor fuel overall.
1) We don't have any. This is the big one. Very little exiats on Earth in molecular form (H2.) That means we have to make it, and that takes energy. Which means that hydrogen is not really a fuel - it is more like an energy carrier, a way to put energy into place A and extract it at place B.
2) It's hard to make. Electrolysis isn't very efficient; an electrolyzer that can hit 70% is a pretty good one. We can make it via thermal dissociation, but to do that we'd really need new nuclear reactor technologies (high temperature gas reactors to be specific.) And that's a ways out. We can break it down from natural gas, but that requires (you guessed it) natural gas.
3) It leaks like crazy. It leaks through materials that would otherwise be considered impervious, due to its very small molecular size. So you need to go to extremes in terms of pipe and tank wall thickness, seals, valves etc. And even then you will inevitably get leaks. Which leads to:
4) Danger of explosion. Natural gas (a flammable gas that most people are familiar) is explosive; if you mix it with air at ratios between 5 to 15%, it will explode when an igniton source is present. We're fortunate that it only explodes within this range, or else the gas pipes in your house would explode every time you had some plumbing work done and some air got into your gas lines. As long as MOST of the gas in the pipe is natural gas you are safe.
Hydrogen isn't like that. Its ignition energy is much lower and it will explode over a range of 4% to 75%. So it will explode over a range more than five times greater than natural gas, and the explosion will be easier to set off. Examples of industrial accidents where just a small amount of air got into a hydrogen tank - rsulting in a massive explosion - are common.
5) It's hard to store. Since it is so light you have to compress it a lot more - and more compression means a more expensive, more dangerous tank that gives you less range overall. You can also liquefy it, but due to its low liquefication temperature this takes a lot of energy.
Most of these problems can be solved by adding a carbon to the mix, so that intead of H2 molecules you have CH4 (methane) molecules. This results in a denser, easier to store, less leaky, less dangerous gas. It also has the benefit that we currently have a lot of this fuel (natural gas) and it can be made quite easily from animal wastes and garbage. Many farms power themselves from the methane collected from anaerobic digesters.
And if we ever do find a good source of hydrogen? Combine hydrogen and atmospheric CO2 to give us methane and water via the Sabatier reaction. We will have a carbon-neutral source of natural gas that will easy to store and use - and we already have a quite extensive infrastructure to store, transport and use it.
Billvon, thanks for saying the same things that I stated in another blog today, except that your explanations werer a bit clearer, and I didn't mention the fire and explosions issues. Hydrogen is one of those things that seems like a good idea until you look at the implementation of it. Are we engineers the only ones who can see problems, or what?
My feeling is that it would be real interesting to know how the aston-martin race car places in the race.
Any fuel has energy that can be dangerous if suddenly released.
Hydrogen has properties conducive to sudden energy release.
1. It is the smallest atom, most able to leak through the minutest passages.
2. In general it loves to react with other materials. It embrittles metals making pressure vessels easy to fracture.
3. It cannot be readily liquified, requiring very high pressure vessels (350 bars is over 5,000 psi).
4. It is the easiest gas to ignite - a little bit of static charge will do.
5. Hydrogen burns with a colorless almost invisible flame. By the time you notice a fire, it's already too late. The only nice thing about a hydrogen fire is that the product, water, is basically non-toxic, though everything else engulfed will give off toxic fumes.
Weather services used hydrogen for their weather balloons most of the 20th century using electrolyzers. Despite all the training and modern safety precautions taken, accidents still occured alarmingly often. As a result, most weather services have changed to using helium. Helium is a non-starter for fuel.
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